Jan 31, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique (14) celebrates his goal during the third period at the Prudential Center. The Islanders defeated the Devils 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Zajac & Adam Henrique: Future "Center" of Offense?

New Jersey missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, leaving their lack of scoring to blame. This off-season they set out to fix this problem, adding key scoring threats. Perhaps, however, their most potent players, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, have been on the roster the entire time.

Other teams this summer have addressed their offensive needs with the acquisition of some major centers. Jason Spezza and Ryan Kesler were shipped away to Dallas and Anaheim by their former organizations, while St. Louis was able to win the free agency sweepstakes in signing the highly coveted Paul Stastny. So why is this significant?

The Los Angeles Kings’ first three lines are centered by Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Jarrett Stoll. These three giants have been essential offensive members and have brought the Stanley Cup to the City of Angels twice in the last three years. Given the success the Kings have had recently, other competitive organizations like the Blues, Ducks, and Stars have each secured a highly talented center to boost their rosters in hopes of  rivaling that of the reigning NHL champions.

Although New Jersey has a history of struggling to produce an impressive offensive category, Zajac and Henrique are promising young centers.  Now that both are locked up for at least the next four years, New Jersey can look to build around these players in hopes of finding success like the Kings are currently enjoying.

Jan 30, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac (19) celebrates the game winning goal by left wing Patrik Elias (not pictured) against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the overtime period at the American Airlines Center. Zajac and Elias each finish with a goal and an assist. The Devils defeated the Stars 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At 29 years old, Travis Zajac is entering his 9th season in the NHL. Under contract until the 2020-21 season, Zajac has spent his entire NHL career calling Newark his home. Posting promising numbers last year, Zajac has shown growth over the past two seasons. Averaging 0.6 points per game, Zajac is returning to his 0.82 points per game best from the 2009-10 campaign. This year look for him to set career highs as he and line mate Jaromir Jagr are paired with the newest Devil, Mike Cammalleri. The trio could be elite if Cammalleri can prove he is the piece the Devils top line needed last season; and if that’s true, the sky’s the limit for how well Zajac will do.

Adam Henrique enters his fourth season in the NHL as the number two center, just behind Zajac. Having agreed to an extension during 2013, Henrique will be a Devil until the 2018-19 season. Coming in at 24 years old, he has been improving each season he has played. Breaking through in 2011-2012, Henrique came in third in voting for the League’s Rookie of the Year. He also has become a more dominant goal scorer, leading the team in netted pucks with 25 goals this year. Over the past three years, Henrique has proven himself to be a goal scoring threat. His rookie year, he posted a respectable 0.22, growing to 0.26 in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, in which he played every game. Last year, Henrique’s goal per game total came in at a dominant 0.32,  putting him in the NHL’s top 30 for players who played at least 75 games. A potent pairing was established when Patrik Elias and Henrique shared the ice. If the duo can find their third man, New Jersey could get a first hand look as Adam Henrique becomes the prolific goal-scorer the Devils hoped for.

Teams like Dallas and Anaheim paid greatly in order to land themselves players that could not be immediately found in their own organizations. Certain that Zajac and Henrique can keep up with the competition, the Devils worried only about gaining complements to the two centers. Assessing their need to increase scoring throughout the free agency period, Zajac and Henrique will look to improve their own numbers, in hopes of matching those of the “elite” center combinations in the NHL by the end of the year. 

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Tags: Adam Henrique Jaromir Jagr Mike Cammalleri New Jersey Devils Patrik Elias Travis Zajac

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